Legislation by state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, could open land in Gallitzin State Forest for construction of a wind turbine farm and open the door for similar renewable energy companies to develop on other state-owned forests.
The legislation, which received unanimous support in the State Government Committee last week, now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The measure would open the door for EverPower Wind Holdings Inc. to construct 20 to 25 turbines on a 300-acre tract in Adams Township.
The land was previously a strip mine and now supports little vegetation or tree growth, Wozniak aide John Myers said.
The senator said the farm will generate clean energy, jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
“We’re always looking for more sustainable ways to power Pennsylvania,” Wozniak said. “This is the perfect site to use state land for clean, renewable energy.”
The state’s designated forests are administered by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Some areas already are leased to oil and natural gas drilling companies.
Initially the legislation was site specific to allow the leasing of the state-owned tract adjacent to EverPower’s Highland Wind Farm project in Adams Township and a second phase in Adams and Summerhill townships.
DCNR’s concern that the measure was too narrow an interpretation prompted broader language in the legislation specifying that such requests be handled through case-by-case review.
EverPower spokesman Kevin Sheen said there are probably not more than 10 trees on the full 300 acres.
“We’re not going to cut down a bunch of trees. It’s as ugly as any strip mine land could be,” Sheen said. “We’re not going into the middle of pristine land.”
Any lease would be for not more than 50 years and would be available for consideration only to those providing wind, solar or other renewable energy sources, Myers said.
“It would be a bidding process,” he said of the leases.
The Sierra Club and PennFuture did not return telephone calls from The Tribune-Democrat seeking comment.
Michael Speerschneider, EverPower’s director of development, said the company has not done any advance planning for use of the state forest land.
“We have no immediate plans at this point, but we would welcome the opportunity to work with the state,” he said.
Speerschneider said he is confident that DCNR has the tools to see that leasing the land is done to protect the rights of Pennsylvania citizens.
“We are thankful to the senator for moving this bill forward,” he said.
Wozniak estimated that EverPower’s two existing wind farms in this section of Cambria County will generate $40 million in taxes to state and host townships through the life of the turbines.
Dozens of construction jobs are created during development of a wind farm.